(this is my second post on images in the LIFE book The Epic of Man. Part 1 here)
Another culture the editors of The Epic of Man covered was Shang dynasty China. Two images from that chapter particularly stuck with me.
One shows a dinner party.
"So the termite says, 'is the bar tender here?'"Everyone is having a good time, and the tradition of laughing heartily at the lame jokes of your social or economic superior is already well established. Even in my youth, I thought the exaggerated big yuks were a bit overdone.
This image of upper class socializing is juxtaposed with this one:
How do people come up with this stuff?
All of these people are to be beheaded and then buried along with the dead notable (perhaps the same joke teller we just met) whose tomb this is, who will presumably need their headless help in the afterlife. The man looking back up at the world he is leaving particularly struck me. I identified with him.
The painter of both of these was Alton S. Tobey, a prolific illustrator as well as a fine artist. I wonder how much guidance he got from the writer on the approach and subject matter.
THe last one, for now, shows a private area in a palace in ancient Crete:
I have no idea why I found this one so fascinating. I've never had an interest in board games.Artists always take the Cretans as looking the way they portrayed themselves: slim, athletic, and perfect. There are a couple of older people in some of the paintings, but not many, and they look really out of place. We really have little idea of what ancient Crete was like. But the climate is nice. That always makes being civilized easier.
The artist was Rudoph F. Zallinger, who did the famous Age of Reptiles mural at the Peabody Musem at Yale. He also did the original March of Progress image of human evolution, which genuinely does deserve the much-overused term "Iconic" (which now usually means just "famous"):
"Stop crowding me!"
All of thsee cultures and periods were new to me when I first looked at this book. Now most of them are much more familiar, but I still see them, at least a bit, as looking like the paintings in this book. This type of art is long gone. Books don't really do this kind of skilled artist's rendition, which is a pity. They can really stir a child's curiosity.